Stevens says prosecutorial misconduct cannot go unpunished

Stevens says prosecutorial misconduct cannot go unpunished

Last month, retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens gave a talk in which he said that it was up to Congress to make prosecutors liable for violating a defendant’s constitutional rights. According to The Wall Street Journal, Stevens gave the speech to the Equal Justice Initiative and the speech concerned the importance of upholding a criminal defendant’s constitutional rights and the need to make sure that prosecutors do just that. The Supreme Court has long held that prosecutors cannot violate a defendant’s constitutional rights, but also that prosecutors cannot be sued for misconduct.

In March, the current Supreme Court justices voted 5-4 to overturn a jury’s $14 million award to a man who had been wrongfully convicted because of misconduct by prosecutors. The man spent 14 years on death row for a murder he did not commit. His innocence could have been proven before trial, but prosecutors hid the exculpatory evidence. The majority justices said that the plaintiff had failed to prove that a pattern of flagrantly violating constitutional rights by the local district attorney’s office had occurred.

Stevens said that Congress must make district attorneys liable for their employees’ egregious and willful errors just like other employers are held liable for such behavior (such as sexual harassment) in the private sector. He pointed out that since district attorneys are often elected, there is actually more incentive to convict people by any means necessary than there is incentive to uphold a defendant’s rights. He said making district attorneys liable for the bad behavior of employees would lead to better training and less wrongful convictions.


Stevens Urges Congress to Crack Down on Prosecutorial Misconduct (The Wall Street Journal)

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